YA Realistic Fiction – Dodgers; Great American…; Highly Illogical…; When We Collided


Beverly, Bill. Dodgers. New York: Crown Publishers, 2016. 978-1-101-90373-5. 290pp. $26.00. Grades 10 and up.

At fifteen years old, East has never left Los Angeles. He works as a lookout in his Uncle Fin’s drug organization in a neighborhood known as “The Boxes.” But, after failing to warn his crew about a police raid, East is called up to redeem himself by running a special favor for Fin. East and three other boys, including his younger brother Ty, are tasked with driving to Wisconsin to murder a key witness. Beginning with a quick, but complicated stop in Las Vegas, the plans go tragically awry as the boys barrel headlong into the heartland in search of their mark. Along the way East realizes that maybe, just maybe, a different kind of life awaits him somewhere down the road. In depicting East’s cross-country journey, debut novelist Bill Beverly incorporates elements of crime fiction, travelogue, and classic coming-of-age stories. THOUGHTS: With a teen protagonist, Dodgers is an excellent crossover selection for readers looking to experience a poetically austere new voice in fiction. With frank depictions of drug dealing, violence, and urban survival, it is strongly reminiscent of the brilliant TV series The Wire.

Realistic Fiction      Amy V. Pickett, Ridly High School Library



Federle, Tim. The Great American Whatever. New York: Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2016. 978-1-4814-0409-9. 278 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

It’s fair to say that Pittsburgh teen Quinn Roberts is not having a great junior year. His mom’s on disability, his father has unceremoniously ditched the family, and worst of all Quinn’s beloved older sister, Annabeth, died in a car crash on the day before Christmas break. Quinn has essentially suspended all contact with the outside world, until summer hits and record-breaking highs interrupt his personal record-breaking lows. Bolstered by his best friend Geoff, Quinn emerges from both his room and his shell. At a party, he meets cute, college boy Amir, who genuinely likes him back. Quinn, however, is less than forthcoming about his deeply sad back story; he’d rather “imagine how the ideal screenplay version of events would play out.” A cinematic thread runs throughout the novel; movie buffs Quinn and Annabeth were amateur filmmakers, with Quinn writing and Annabeth directing his scripts for “Q&A Production,” and an abandoned application for a student filmmakers’ competition brings the narrative full circle. This winning LGBT coming-of-age novel has just the right balance of tragedy, comedy, and reality. THOUGHTS: Tim Federle’s first YA novel, The Great American Whatever, is 2016’s answer to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. References to Pittsburgh locales such as Squirrel Hill and Kennywood will especially delight Pennsylvania readers!

Realistic Fiction    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School



Whaley, John Corey. Highly Illogical Behavior. New York: Dial Books, 2016. 978-0-525042818-3. 249 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Solomon Reed, age 16, hasn’t left his house in over three years. He suffers from agoraphobia and debilitating panic attacks, but he’s managed to build a safe and comfortable life for himself in his parents’ home. Enter Lisa Praytor, who remembers Solomon’s all-too-public 7th grade meltdown and takes a keen interest in befriending him. Lisa also has a keen interest in receiving a full ride to a prestigious psychology program. Her essay prompt: “My personal experience with mental illness.” Once Solomon allows Lisa into his life he enjoys the companionship, even coming out to her during one of their visits. Lisa values his friendship, too, ignoring the pangs of guilt she feels over quietly manipulating him for essay material. When Lisa invites her boyfriend Clark to join her daily visits with Solomon, everyone gets along swimmingly until unexpectedly complicated feelings arise. With humor balancing the more serious plot lines, Highly Illogical Behavior is a fresh spin on the tried-and-true formula of a staged relationship leading to real feelings. THOUGHTS: Although this endearing novel doesn’t have quite the literary gravitas of Whaley’s debut, Where Things Come Back, or the creative chutzpah of Noggin‘s head transplant, it will leave readers thinking about and feeling for Solomon, Lisa, and Grant.

Realistic Fiction     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library



Lord, Emery. When We Collided. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. Print.  978-1619638457. 352p. $17.99. Gr. 9+

I had never heard of Emery Lord before, but after absorbing the drama and characters in When We Collided, I am eager to read her other titles. Free spirit Vivian has moved to Verona Cove for the summer with her artist mother. The idyllic beach town enchants Vivi from the start, and she quickly begins making friends, including five year old Leah Daniels, who happens to have a handsome older brother. Jonah and Vivi strike up a romance quickly, but they both have pasts that haunt them. Jonah, along with his older brother and sister, is trying to keep his family afloat after the death of their father. Their mother is present, but so severely depressed that she can hardly take care of herself, let alone her three youngest children. Readers slowly learn that Vivi is battling her own inner demons, and her relationship with Jonah is tried when she begins to lose the battle. Told in the alternating perspectives of Vivi and Jonah, the book is reminiscent of Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. The perspective of Vivi is powerful, and gives the reader a hint of the jumbled thoughts in her mind. The author concludes with a powerful note to her readers and resources for further reading on mental health. THOUGHTS: This is an excellent addition to the growing novels about mental health, and can help spark a good discussion among teens about various issues they face.

Realistic Fiction       Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Though this book is a hard read, it is also an important read.  Mental health issues still carry a negative stigma, especially in high school or a teenage setting. It can be hard for some students to grapple with these issues, including students going through them as well as their friends who simply want to help. Having books like this, that highlight depression and other mental problems, are great ways to spark conversations and discussions, and to lead teens to more resources. This is definitely a book that warrants more thought and discussion upon finishing, so make sure to suggest it to more mature teens who are ready for the subject matter, or a book club willing to tackle issues that might be uncomfortable to discuss.

YA Historical Fiction – Burn Baby Burn


Medina, Meg. Burn Baby Burn. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. 978-0-7636-7467-0. 310pp. $17.99. Grades 8 and up.

In this gripping coming-of-age novel, Meg Medina brings 1977 New York City vividly to life with a potent backdrop of disco, the Son of Sam murders, women’s lib, arson, and civil unrest. In her senior year of high school, Nora López is looking forward to turning 18 and saving enough money to move out on her own, escaping her needy Mima and increasingly volatile younger brother, Hector. She’s excited about her new boyfriend Pablo (the cute stock boy at the bodega where she works), though the specter of a killer at large looms over their stolen moments together. Medina includes the murderer’s notes to law enforcement, one of the ways she ramps up the tingly sense of unseen danger around each corner. Meanwhile, Mima faces a layoff and Hector’s mood swings turn violent, just two more secrets that Nora tries to keep from Pablo and her best friend, Kathleen. Many readers will identify with Nora’s economic worries and her longing for a better future. At one point, Nora describes her friends as “beautiful in the face of fear”; it’s exactly how readers will think of Nora herself. THOUGHTS: With a strong historical setting and fully realized characters, this novel is a must-read.

Historical Fiction           Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School


“Maybe the things that scare us seem more powerful than they truly are when we keep them secret” (269).  It’s summer 1977 in Flushing, Queens.  It’s one of the hottest summers on record and the evil that lurks in the city is on the prowl.  It’s the summer of Son of Sam, and Nora Lopez worries about her long brown hair attracting the serial murderer, but that’s just the cherry.  Arsonists have taken to the city and during a city-wide blackout, businesses are looted and burned to the ground.  As Nora witnesses her troubled, pyro-loving brother burn down the neighborhood pharmacy, her fears of failure, family, and her future finally force her to face herself and the lies she’s been telling to protect her family from shame.  As Nora draws strength from within, she finally faces her broken family and future with inner-strength.  THOUGHTS: With a backdrop of disco, the Son of Sam murders, women’s liberation, and cultural tensions, Burn Baby Burn is a wonderful piece of historical fiction that reminds readers that everyone faces difficulties, but it’s how one stands up to those challenges that allows the future to unfold.

Historical Fiction     Erin Parkinson, Beaver Area MS-HS

Hot for MS Readers – Listen to the Moon; The Seventh Wish; Saving Wonder; Booked


Morpurgo, Michael. Listen to the Moon. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2016. 978-0-250-04204-0. 341p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Alfie cherishes fishing with his father, and it is during this activity that he hears a faint cry at St. Helen’s island. The island houses the “Pest House” where those sick are placed. When they find a girl, whose head is bleeding, they hurry back home. Dr. Crow treats the girl; they believe her name is Lucy.  She is feverish, half starved, and suffering from pneumonia. Later, cousin Dave finds a toy and a blanket with foreign writing. They wonder if Lucy is a Hun but pledge not to discuss this with anyone else, while gossip around town is that the girl might be a mermaid.

Once Dr. Crow brings a gramophone and classical piano music more is revealed regarding Lucy. Her father went to fight the war, and she continued school and piano lessons.  To feel closer to her father, she listened to the moon. Upon receiving a message that he had been injured, she leaves with her mother leaving their posh life in New York City to board a boat to England with hopes of greeting the injured soldiers.  THOUGHTS: The Pest House, Madhouse (where Alfie’s twin brother received treatment), and treatment of those with illnesses is a topic of discussion that reading the book can encourage.  The book allows for conversation about acceptance of others regardless of cultural differences. Topics with curriculum tie in include WWI, the Lusitania, U-Boats, and geography.

Historical Fiction (World War I)   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School




Messner, Kate. The Seventh Wish. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. 978-1-61963-376-6. 224pgs. $16.99. Gr 4-6.

We wish on candles and stars and ask for things that aren’t ours, but what would you do if a fish granted you a wish? That is the premise for Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish, but this book is so much more. Charlie is a girl with joyful ambitions: to be an improving dancer, a loyal friend, and to enjoy her family. Still, as with any teen, she has fears and struggles. The speaking fish that she catches and curiously releases with her first wish begins a series of events and a chain reaction that shows what she cannot control with a simple wish. The profound example of this revolves around her older sister, who gets mixed up in the drug scene at her college and now struggles to overcome her addiction. There are some tense moments- along with many touching, heartfelt and thoughtful scenes – who could wish for more?!  THOUGHTS: This book made headlines recently when Kate Messner had an author visit to a school cancelled because of the drug plotline in the story. I join those who would argue that the book is more essential to include in school discussions because of these themes. Readers can empathize and safely explore through literature, in this case with topics of peer pressure, battling addiction, being a family member of an addict, or exploring values of honesty and friendship. Also, I found that this could be a wonderful text for close reading and using Notice & Note Signposts. Best wishes!

Realistic Fiction; Fantasy    Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District



Knight, Mary. Saving Wonder. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 2016. 978-0-545-828932. 272 pgs. $16.99. Gr 4-8.

Curley Hines knows the power of words thanks to his grandfather and his best friend, but he puts them to the test in Mary Knight’s debut novel Saving Wonder. Living in a coal mining town, he has seen his share of tragedy and misfortune, but he loves his mountain and valley. When a new owner comes to take over the industry with his slick son, things start to change. Should they adapt and survive or take a stand and face down Big Coal that threatens everything? Saving Wonder doesn’t have easy answers, but it will open your eyes, leave room for debate, educate and inspire.THOUGHTS: This has plenty of classroom and home applications, prompting projects and new vocabulary lessons. I also found that the setting and characters were almost instantly identifiable, meaning that the author did a wonderful job capturing the voice of Curley and company. Saving Wonder is a great debut for Mary Knight, joining the recent ranks of authors like R.J. Palacio and Dan Gemeinhart as new favs!

Realistic Fiction     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District


Alexander, Kwame. Booked. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 978-0-544-570986. 314 pgs. $16.99. Gr 5-8.

“Books are fun, Nicholas, he says, they’re like amusement parks for readers.” Despite the advice of his father, Nick Hall would rather do a lot of things than read the dictionary that his father published, especially play soccer. With a huge national tournament coming up against his best friend’s team, things seem to lead toward a sports genre ending; however, obstacles keep getting in Nick’s way, including the big fear of his parents splitting up. With a colorful assortment of characters and a lively novel-in-verse format, Kwame Alexander brings Nick’s world to life in Booked. It is definitely a fast and fun ride!  THOUGHTS: Booked is similar in style and content to Kwame’s award winning Crossover basketball poetry novel. But there are plenty of new concepts and plot twists to keep readers interested whether they are fans of soccer or poetry. The variety of verse, the awesome librarian, and the few lit concepts like malapropisms blend together for an enjoyable middle grade novel.

Realistic Fiction; Sports     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District